Some of the artworks on display at the exhibition.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
Some of the artworks on display at the exhibition.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

Life behind bars came alive on canvas at the main art gallery of the Alliance Francaise de Karachi on Saturday evening where visitors came to witness a four-week-long exhibition of artworks by prisoners from the Karachi Central Jail.

The exhibition Bastille to Karachi jail showcases 60 pieces of artwork depicting rural life, women, freedom, growth, love, depression and despair.

All proceeds from the sales of these artworks will go to the prisoners who create such pieces at the Central Jail School of Fine Arts and Music. Artist Sikandar Jogi is the prisoners’ teacher at the school, which was launched as a project of IG Prisons Sindh Nusrat Hussain Mangan back in 2008 when he was the superintendent of the prison.

The project took off soon enough and from working a few hours a week, they now have classes almost every day. For the last several years, the prisoners’ artwork has been regularly showcased in the city.

One of the most striking paintings was by a prisoner, Aziz. His work was raw with intense emotion – a man drinking water from a river chained to a grey building with his arms stretched out.

There were also several portraits and sketches on display by Aziz and Allah Wadhyo of Abdul Sattar Edhi and Jane Austen.

Works by Iftikhar, S. Bilal and Sajid explored themes of justice, people, honesty and violence. Hasnain, another prisoner, used bright colours and oil paints to show what he thought life was about. In one painting he used a board game, snakes and ladders, to warn individuals who might mean them harm.

In another painting, Hasnain used cubes to represent Bastille Day. He painted the canvas bright red with grey cubes to show what the day meant to him.

He also wrote short explanations, including one about how the Hollywood movie, The Man in the Iron Mask starring Leonardo DiCaprio was about a prisoner who was in jail at the Bastille.

The Consul General of France Monsieur Francois Dall’Orso inaugurated the exhibition.

Originally published in Dawn, July 10th, 2017